Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Whizzo, Ol’ Dad, and Me

By Steve Crum
My late father, Harold Ronald Crum, always thought of himself as a business entrepreneur. He never called himself such, but his actions over the years clearly spoke to his desire of being self employed, the owner-operator of a business, and his own boss. Success would bring with it money, so he could quit his much hated machinist job. 
I remember his foray into the lawn mower repair business. It cut out within a month. In his later years there was his dream job as a professional photographer, envisioned by him to be like Bob Collins’ cheesecake photographer on the popular TV show, The Bob Cummings Show. After buying a small studio and packing it with expensive photo equipment, his business failed to develop. Per se. 
Mom told me about a couple of his early business schemes, one involving Dad’s creative mind. He “invented” an emergency flare that motorists could keep in the car trunk. There were flares sold already, but his flare was somehow different. After his usual pattern of buying business cards, he invested in the materials of manufacturing the flares, including packaging. I assume some kind of gunpowder was required. 
Not long afterward, before any flares were sold (I guess Dad would call or visit area auto supplies shops), he discovered he had to prove he owned the copyright. He clearly did not have any such legality. In fact, his originality was not so original. Coincidentally, there were already flares like his on the market, and they were copyrighted. Fizzle. Yet another financial setback. It is likely Dad was out of work at the time, which was status quo throughout his life. We lived on the brink of poverty half the time. 
Then along clomped Whizzo, the clown. 
Frank Wiziarde was born in 1916, the son of circus trapeze artists. In 1952, Wiziarde was living in Kansas City, and working for fledgeling station KMBC-TV, which wanted to capitalize on Wiziarde’s circus credentials by having him perform on live daytime television as a clown. A slight play on his name became Whizzo, and a Kansas City legend was born. His morning show, Whizzo's Wonderland, is memorable to those like myself who grew up in KC during the 1950’s. Everything about Whizzo was hilarious, from his original outfit with the huge feet to his constant physical and verbal improvising. His trademark yell “Whizzo-whee!” and “Whizzo Dog” (his puppet pet) were part of our vocabulary. Whizzo was so influential there were Whizzo toy banks sold, Whizzo-endorsed products, and a Whizzo amusement park. 
His show was enjoyed by adults as well as children. If there was a parade anywhere in Greater Kansas City, Whizzo was a featured attraction. For over 30 years, Whizzo was seen regularly on TV, first in Kansas City, and then in Topeka, Kansas. He was a trouper up until his death in 1987.
During the summer of 1949, when I was a kiddo of 2, the pre-Whizzo Wiziarde hosted a local Kansas City half hour radio show broadcast live daily on WHB at 11 a.m. from a restaurant in the prestigious Country Club Plaza. The appropriately named Luncheon on the Plaza included women guests, and was geared to the predominately female radio audience. In those days, women guests were aka “housewives.” The show’s gimmick was that interviewed women were supposed to wear hats, and Wiziarde and company would choose the best. The woman with the chosen hat would win a prize. 
Does that premise crack you up as much as it does me? A visual gimmick…on radio? It’s reminiscent of Stan Freberg’s hilarious bit featuring acrobats on radio. 
Dad probably heard about the show from Mom, whose description obviously impressed him. And inspired him. At that time, Dad was working and Mom was indeed a housewife. What interested him most was the fact that the dozen or so women who appeared on the show would always identify themselves by giving their name and address. AND ADDRESS. In those days, women would invariably introduce themselves with their husband’s name, i.e. Mrs. John Jones. So there you have it. All one needed to contact the woman was to look up her husband’s name in the phone book, and verify the given address. Simple. 
Using the sparse money we had, perhaps borrowing it, Dad then invested in cutting edge technology, a reel-to-reel tape recorder. In 1949, this was state of the art. He also purchased many blank tapes. Oh yes, he also purchased a device to cut his own 78 rpm records, which he attached to his tape recorder. Dozens of blank discs were needed. A business was born. 
Mom would record Luncheon on the Plaza, and Dad would later listen to it, writing down women’s names and phone numbers. He would then call each one, flatter her about the appearance on the show, and offer to sell her a recording of said appearance. Let’s say he’d ask $5. (I’m not sure.) Then he would mail the record to her. Easy money, and non taxable. 
Two factors soon halted Dad’s business enterprise. 
First, he got a call from the telephone company warning him to stop using a public phone for business purposes. Someone had complained, and contacted the phone company. (At that time we had a party line, which made things worse.) 
Secondly, Luncheon on the Plaza had an ultra short radio run. It premiered in July, 1949, and ended in August, 1949. Wiziarde had much better luck in literally clowning around. Within three years, he realized his showbiz niche as Whizzo. 
By the way, my late Mom actually appeared on Luncheon on the Plaza, no doubt wearing the required hat. I think she was interviewed by Wiziarde, but I will never know. I do know I have three recordings of show excerpts via Dad’s leftover, homemade 78’s. They are now 65 years old, nearly inaudible, and scratchy. However, I have digitized them for posterity.

They also include women divulging their names and addresses. ID theft, anyone?

1 comment:

  1. My father worked with Frank at KMBC and had a great deal respect for him. Dad made a point every time Whizzo was mentioned to tell people that "Frank is the real thing. His family were all circus and Whizzo had all comics skills." Most importantly Frank love being Whizzo and loved making youngsters laugh. Jeff Bilyeu